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Sunday, July 5, 2015

Fire Woman

Greenwich Village, NY and St. Paul, MN 2013

Seems every July in my Greenwich Village memory is steamy, and that will always be how I remember it. I was walking with my friend Hil on Sixth Avenue at dusk on West Fourth, somewhere close to the Fourth of July. We were planning to go up to her roof and have a party with her family while we watched the fireworks.

Those fireworks always make the world look a little better, no matter what’s going on in my life. As a college student in Boston I used to go to the park when I was working summers, and we’d lie down on blankets when they played the 1812 Overture and shot off the last, brightest fireworks. Looking at them that way, it seemed we could just reach up and touch them.

Hil and I were walking slowly in a crowd of people, going this way and that, when she noticed a tall, dark-haired man chugging a bottle ahead of us. “That guy is really drunk,” she said, but she hadn’t bothered to lower her voice and I felt myself blush as he turned around.

I thought he was going to growl at her, but his eyes were fixed on me. Here goes, I thought, I’m going to take the fall for my friend.

But instead he walked beside us, continuing to look at me while he spoke.

“You are a Fire Woman.”


“You are a Fire Woman, and you need a Fire Man.”


“I wish I was,” he continued, “but I’m not.”

I could feel my friend Hil trying hard not to chuckle. I nudged her so she wouldn’t as the man spoke again. 

“You burn through the small things all around you, so you can find what you're looking for. Don’t you know that?”

I was afraid to answer, thinking whatever I said would not be enough, and he’d want to keep talking forever. But part of me was a little bit pleased to be called a Fire Woman, which sounded like a compliment. You can hear a lot worse on Village streets.

He kept talking for a bit, but then decided he had said what he had to say and moved on.

I looked at Hil who was cracking up completely by now. “Well,” I said, “you must have wanted a closer look because you were the one who brought him here.”

“Sorry,” she said. "I thought he was going to yell at me."

“He should have,” I said, and we laughed.

From then on, for quite a while, she called me her Fire Woman. And writing Ruby’s story in Minnesota years later, I’ve tried to remember that steamy evening and the man who flavored it. Those encounters are, after all, the kind of thing Ruby might see every day.

I have a feeling that when she grows up, Ruby will be a Fire Woman too.